Monday, 18 January 2016

Perverse psychology

I've been at this for just over four years and I swear I am no closer to understanding the workings of my son's mind than I was four years ago. In fact, I might be marginally more mystified now than I was then. At least when he was a baby he couldn't speak and confound me with his thought processes.

After last term's contretemps over swimming, I had a certain amount of trepidation regarding restarting swimming with the same teacher again. To which end I made sure I took LittleBear swimming every week during the Christmas holiday, and to my great delight he absolutely loved it, and completely overcame his fear of going underwater. Or did he?

Last week, there was more than a hint of reluctance to get in the pool. This came as something of a surprise as LittleBear had been full of enthusiasm about going swimming, right up to the moment he was stood on the edge of the pool, at which point he started whimpering and continued to cry and whimper for a good ten minutes through the lesson. Teacher even made the fatal mistake of threatening LittleBear. Admittedly the threat was to send Mummy to the changing room so he couldn't keep watching me and ignoring Teacher, but nonetheless, it was a threat, and it didn't help. By the end of the lesson however, he was doing splendidly, high-fives all round, lots of praise, lots of cuddles and LittleBear announced, "I was proud of myself!" with a hint of amazement.

Having faced his fears, overcome them, and been praised, I thought the worst was over. Yep, you're right, any parent who has ever thought that has had a nasty shock waiting around the corner, but I still have moments of insanely naive optimism in this whole parenting adventure. So I carried on thinking the worst was over right up until last Friday. Last Friday, I was unable to take LittleBear for our "fun" swimming, having mashed my hands at work and been temporarily rendered unable to be immersed in water. Last Friday LittleBear was sad not to go "fun" swimming. Last Friday LittleBear started to declare he didn't like swimming lessons, he only like swimming with me. And so, throughout the weekend, he increasingly frequently announced that he didn't like swimming, didn't like "being ordered around", didn't like Mondays at all, because of the swimming lessons, was worried, didn't want to go, didn't like deep water, didn't like not being able to touch the bottom, didn't like jumping in, didn't like going underwater. You name it, he didn't like it.

This general bleating escalated as Monday progressed until it was almost time to set out for swimming and my poor boy sat on my lap sobbing, his bottom lip doing the full tremble, telling me he was afraid and worried and didn't think he'd ever enjoy swimming lessons ever again. He was almost inconsolable, but I did somehow (and I now forget how) manage to jolly him along and get him in the car. We had a packet of maltesers ready as a treat for after swimming, on the condition he tried his best. But as we walked into the pool room, the bottom lip got going again, and then before I knew it, there we were in the changing room, sobbing and cuddling and panicking. Having learnt my lesson last term, I didn't scold, or threaten, or get cross. I just cuddled my boy, got him to take a deep breath, and dried his tears. I was a gnat's whisker from just scooping him up and taking him home, because I couldn't see any way for this to end well for anybody. Having made the promise to myself that I would leave swimming if it ceased to be a positive experience, it was time to make the same promise to my boy.

So, I held his face and kissed my baby and told him that if he could just today try his very best to see if he might enjoy it, then if he didn't enjoy it we wouldn't have to come again. <sniff>... <hiccough>... "Are we allowed to do vat Mummy?" <sniff> "Yes darling, it's up to Mummy whether we come or not."

At which point, my baby gave another sniff, and consented to wriggling into his costume, and hand in hand we walked out to the pool. The other children were already in the pool, but the teacher had seen the state LittleBear was in, so he came over to the side and reached his hands up to LittleBear, "It's alright buddy, just take my hands now". But instead of taking Teacher's hands to be lifted in, LittleBear just jumped in to him. Just like that. Of his own volition.

LittleBear then proceeded to have a fabulous lesson, no tears, no fear, no fuss. Today's lesson was all about going under water, and LittleBear wore a pair of (borrowed) goggles for the first time so he could see to retrieve things from the bottom of the pool. ("It's so clear Mummy!") Whether it was the goggles, or the knowledge that this was actually an optional activity I don't know, but at the end my LittleBear clambered out and informed me he loved it, and could we do exactly the same things next Monday please.

So we came home, ordered LittleBear his very own pair of goggles, and I sat and pondered over the peculiar psychology of my child. I think I can now confidently say that I have absolutely no idea whatsoever what will happen before, during and after next week's lesson. I can also safely say that whatever happens before the lesson cannot be taken as any sort of indicator of the enjoyment or success of the lesson. If I were a normal human being, this would be evidence that there is no point in worrying. As I am me however, this means that I can spend a week imaging every possible permutation of behaviours and worrying about all of them.

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